From the author: It was always the same wolf. Until it wasn't.
When Arthur Daniski looked down out of his sitting room window to watch the sun rise, the wolf looked up and in at him from the sidewalk below. Its eyes were yellow and stupid under the light of the streetlamp. Nonetheless, he felt as if it were laughing at him.
It was, of course, the same wolf.
It was always the same wolf. Until it wasn't.
He closed his eyes tightly, brushing forcefully at the lids with his knuckles, trying to control his breathing. One. Two. Three. Let’s see what we can see.
My what big eyes you have. Daniski swallowed thickly as stray thoughts loped through his skull and looked out the window again. The bag of garbage his downstairs neighbour had left on the curb for the trash man in the morning looked up at him, the light of the street lamp reflecting eerily off something metal visible through a rip in the bag as it sputtered and went out. There now. Perfectly reasonable.
Something growled and he whirled, sloshing tea all over his white shirt and eliciting a yelp from him as he looked around wildly. The cordless phone growled again from its place on the television, a soft, dull snarl. Reasonable. This was a reasonable world, full of reasonable people.
He snatched up the phone and hissed into the receiver. A telemarketer snarled back at him and he slammed the phone down on the table and furiously daubed at the tea on his shirt with a napkin. Morning breakfast was becoming more dangerous all the time. The wolf nodded in agreement and he threw his cup at it, a shriek dying in his throat as the cup cracked the television screen. Only a reflection. Just a reflection of something that wasn't there.
He stood in the center of his living room and looked around to be sure. The wolf was gone. It was always gone. Until it wasn't.
Daniski sat down heavily on a chair, his head in his hands. Why wouldn't it go away? Why was it following him? Trembling fingers reached for the phone. Dialled a number. So familiar he'd worn the numbers off the buttons on the phone. Buzz. Buzz.
"Hello?" A sleepy voice answered. "Hello?" Cranky now. An edge to the words. He could hear the rustling of sheets. How late did psychiatrists sleep?
"Doctor Goodwin? It's Arthur Daniski. I-I saw it again."
"Arthur? Saw what?" Doctor Goodwin sounded confused. Daniski resisted the urge to hang up. She couldn't help him. It was foolish to think otherwise.
"The wolf. I saw it again." He felt as if the world were crumbling beneath his feet. She couldn't help. No one could.
"The wolf? Oh. Oh! Arthur." She spoke with a firmness that implied recognition. Sympathy. Doctor Goodwin was good at that. Skilful. "Arthur. You know you're not supposed to call outside of office hours."
"I know. I just-I saw it again. The pills aren't helping. I can still see it!" His voice had a brittle pitch he didn't like but he couldn't control it. "And it can see me."
A sigh. Barely audible. "It can't see you Arthur. It's not real. We've been over this. It's simply a hallucination. Apparently a stubborn one." A fumbling sound. A hand reaching for an alarm clock perhaps. Another sigh. Louder than the first. She wanted him to know he'd inconvenienced her. The doctor as suffering saint, a voice in his head growled, pink tongue lolling over yellow teeth. He held his hand over the phone and looked around.
"Shut up," he hissed. The wolf laughed, hidden somewhere. Daniski backed away until he felt the wall behind him, hard against his spine. If he could see it coming it couldn't get him.
"Arthur?" Doctor Goodwin's voice, muffled by the meat of his palm. Concerned. Angry. "Arthur are you listening?"
"Yes. Yes Doctor. Just distracted. I'm sorry. Yes?"
"Arthur, I want you to come for a session this afternoon. After my last appointment at five."
"You want me to come at night?" Panic thrilled through him like ice-water coursing through his arteries. Night? Wolves were nocturnal weren't they?
That we are, the wolf growl-laughed. He could hear it padding around. Pad-pad-pad. Its tail swished against the walls. We are the children of the night and we make such beautiful music as a famous man once said. Sweat popped and trickled down Arthur's face as he whipped his head back and forth, trying to find it. "Go away. You're not real."
But I am, until I'm not, said the wolf, its foul breath tickling Arthur's earlobe. He screamed, the phone flipping from his hand as he hurled himself away from the wall, not looking. Not wanting to see. "Arthur? Arthur!" Doctor Goodwin, sounding agitated. Angry. "Arthur, it's not real!"
He slunk across the floor, eyes darting left and right. Yes it is. Yes it is. "I-it's not real. It's not real." He picked up the phone, cradling it to his head. "It's not real, Doctor Goodwin." Yes it is and its looking at me from the wall with its stupid yellow eyes and pink tongue. And it was. The wolf sat sideways on the wall, looking at him. Watching him. How had it got in his flat? How could it climb walls like a spider?
I'm a special wolf, it said, licking its chops as it stalked down the wall leaving smoking footprints in the wallpaper. I'm a special wolf, with special ins and outs and special hiding places. Doctor Goodwin hung up her end with a final, sympathetic admonishment. Empty words that bolstered the wall in his mind, that barred the door against the wolf as it came towards him, brushy black tail wagging in amusement. I can hear the door slamming Arthur but you can't keep me out, it grunted, sitting in front of him, malformed front paws kneading the carpet. I can come in anytime I want, you know that.
And he did.
"Go away." He shut his eyes tightly. "Go away. You're not real."
Stinking breath, smelling of rotten meat and spoiled milk, washed over his face and he could sense it staring at him. Waiting. watching. Until it wasn't.
He opened his eyes and it was gone, leaving only a whiff of something foul in the air. But it would be back. It always came back.
He tried to work for the remainder of the day. He worked at home these days. Ever since he'd first seen the wolf. Following him in the street, weaving in and out of the crowd on Saint James Street on a Saturday afternoon, the sound of the ocean pounding in his skull. Brighton was lovely in the summer and Arthur loved it. Until the wolf ruined it.
He'd thought it was a dog at first, somebody's mutt allowed to run loose until it brushed past him and looked up at him with those yellow eyes. A shade of yellow that existed on no painter’s palette, nor in nature. The color of sickness, of plague. A wolf with eyes the color of disease and its voice rattled in his head like gravel loose in a washing machine. He didn't listen then. He almost wished he had, maybe it would have told him why it was following him. But he hadn't, he ran instead, dropping his groceries, the bags from Somerfield's bursting and littering their contents all over the street, cans of food rupturing and splashing.
The wolf loped easily beside him as he ran, its words lost in the babble of human voices, the raucous cries of seagulls, the sound of cars humming through the narrow streets. It paced him as he blundered through the midday crowd, tongue lolling, eyes blazing as it laughed at him.
It always laughed at him. Quiet, mocking laughter, as if it were aware of some secret joke concerning him.
He couldn't go out of the house without it following him, especially at night. At night it was bigger. Louder. It didn't disappear as quickly, instead content to laugh and pad after him. Pad-pad-pad. He hated that sound. The most horrible sound in the universe, the sound of its rough pads kissing the ground. Hateful sound. He couldn't get it out of his head.
It followed him down the street as he ran errands or up and down the aisles of bus and train, toe nails clicking, pads rubbing. He couldn't see it at those times but it was there. It was always there. Even when it wasn't.
He'd quit his job, taken one he could do out of his home. Something with computers. In demand these days. Stopped going out with friends. Stopped talking to people unless he had to because you never knew if the wolf was listening. He'd even gotten a new flat without telling anyone but Doctor Goodwin. He'd thought the wolf couldn't get in, couldn't find him. He was wrong. It watched him from the streets and the rooftops and from his television. From his computer screen. From inside his mirror.
Special ins and special outs and special hiding places. Wasn't that what it said?
No. It hadn't said anything. It wasn't real, that was what Doctor Goodwin said. That was what she always said.
He'd started seeing her after he'd quit his job. It was one of the few times he allowed himself to go outside. She had a tiny office, with a green door on the street and small steps leading up. The smell of the wolf had been thick there the first time he took those stairs, coiling around him, pulling him back down. He hadn't been able to move, to go either up or down. Trapped with the sound of the wolf's laughter and its nails click-clicking on the steps as it climbed towards him.
Doctor Goodwin had found him there, paralyzed and shaking. She'd prescribed anti-psychotics on the spot. Little foul tasting pills that dulled the sharp corners of his mind. That hid him from the wolf. But only if he took enough of them. Sometimes it was hard to tell though. The wolf was getting stronger, like a dog that strains at a leash every day will become stronger.
It even followed him in his dreams now. He hadn't slept in days.
As the sun began to dip, he gave up on work and made dinner. He was hungry. Always so hungry. The steak curled and turned from red to brown in the pan, its juices boiling away in a hiss of steam and his stomach rebelled at the sight of it. He slid it onto a plate, his mouth watering, fingers not working.
He dropped his utensils so many times that he eventually gave up on them entirely, eating the cooling meat with his hands. His stomach groaned and his eyes strayed to the clock on the wall, Fritz the Cat's eyes and tail swinging this way and that only it wasn't Fritz it was the wolf and it grinned at him over the rim of the clock it held, bushy tail swinging this way and that, yellow eyes watching him eat as it laughed. A black nail tapped the plastic as his gorge rose in his throat.
You're going to be late. Mustn’t keep her waiting.
It was after five. Daniski, his eyes never leaving those of the wolf, pushed himself away from the table, chair falling over backwards, unnoticed. He had to get to Doctor Goodwin's. Get more pills. Get some help. Daniski ran out of his flat, trying not to listen to the sound of the wolf's feet following after.
Saint James’ Street was crowded and his head pulsed with the sounds of hurrying feet and conversations he didn't quite catch or understand. Some were in other languages or in voices too hushed for him to hear but he still strained, hoping someone would mention the wolf behind him. Following after him. It was a futile hope that someone would see it just as he did. Sometimes he thought that perhaps if someone else saw it, it would leave him alone and follow them. Hunt them. But no one did. And it didn't. It was always there.
The sidewalk was crowded and Daniski pushed his way through, narrow and stoop shouldered, burdened by the weight of the wolf as it slunk through the crowd, disappearing occasionally but always reappearing at his side, eyes watching him and laughing.
Run as fast as you like Arthur, but I'll always be here, right beside you, it snarled softly as it nipped at his legs, hurrying him along. You can feel me can't you?
Arthur stumbled as pain shot through his legs and rumbled up through his bowels into his guts, like the meat he'd eaten was trying to climb back out of his throat. Things pushed inside him. It felt as if he'd swallowed a hunk of steel wool. He had to see Doctor Goodwin. She'd help him. She had to.
The stairs were narrower than he remembered and they seemed to twist and turn upon themselves. He stumbled more than once, and at last resorted to pulling himself up along the wall, the wallpaper seeming to boil and pucker beneath his sweaty fingers. A rough, sandpapery tongue licked his palm and he staggered away from the wall, nearly falling back down the steps.
The wolf's skull, its shape bulged beneath the wallpaper and it moved slowly, keeping pace with him as he climbed the stairs, his fearful eyes locked on it. As he rounded a turn, he came face to face with Doctor Goodwin who was shutting her door behind herself with brisk, efficient movements. "Doctor Goodwin?"
"Oh. Arthur." She turned, a disapproving set to her features. "I didn't think you'd make it."
"I-I'm sorry. Time slipped away from me."
"It does that often, doesn't it? We've had this discussion before." She tapped her watch, her eyes hard. Then they softened. "Come in, Arthur. I think we need to have a talk."
"Yes, Doctor Goodwin." Arthur cast a last nervous glance at the stairwell. The wolf was nowhere to be seen. It was hiding. Somewhere. It was always hiding. Until it wasn't.
She sat Arthur down on the chair across from hers. Doctor Goodwin didn't believe in couch-therapy. She said it induced false maternal bonding between patient and doctor. Arthur only knew that the high-backed faux leather chairs hurt his back. He squirmed in his seat as she settled primly across from him, hands folded neatly on her lap. "Well?"
"Doctor?" he asked, in some confusion.
"Arthur. What is the problem? I thought we had settled this before. This wolf of yours is merely and auditory and visual hallucination, one you can control with a proper chemical regimen. The regimen I put you on and which you have evidently failed to keep up."
"I didn't! I-I mean I did! I've been taking the pills just like you said Doctor and it was working. It was!" Arthur toppled in his chair, bending until his forehead almost touched his knees, his hands cradling his face. "But its not anymore. The wolf can see me again. I can see it. It followed me here!" His voice was sharp with anguish and Doctor Goodwin's eyes narrowed in concern. "It followed me here," he whispered, looking up at her, tears rolling down his sallow cheeks. Doctor Goodwin sighed and leaned forward.
"Arthur, the wolf is not real. You know this. It is simply a product of your disordered psyche. A hiccup in your mental processes, one that is easily controlled. You are suffering from a very specific, focused form of schizophrenia. Reality is harder for you to maintain your hold of than the average person. We've discussed this. You need to work harder at it. Discipline yourself."
"I thought so too, but-"
"No buts Arthur. The wolf is not real. Say it with me."
"The wolf is-"
"Isn't real. The wolf isn't real." Doctor Goodwin's voice was calm. Reasonable. It was always reasonable. "The wolf isn't real."
"The wolf isn't real," Arthur stuttered. The office was tiny, barely a closet really. Dimly lit, the noise of Saint James’ Street an ever-present rumble of muddled voices and vehicle engines grunting along. She didn't even have a desk. Just a bookshelf and two chairs. Spartan. Efficient. She said she didn't want any distractions. She was a good doctor. "The wolf isn't real."
"Good. Now we can go forward." She nodded and leaned back. "When you see the wolf, what is it doing Arthur?"
"But you said-"
"Yes. I did. And it isn't. But humor me, what is it doing?"
"Watching me. Stalking me."
"Yes. Yes!" Arthur was breathing heavily now. "Its in my head all the time, driving me this way and that. Trying to-trying to..." His voice died away. What was it trying to do? What? He rubbed his brow with both hands, fingertips sweaty and slick over his skin. What was it trying to do? He looked at Doctor Goodwin, who was smiling patiently. She was always smiling, even when she wasn't. Like she was laughing at him. Always laughing.
He never saw her other patients. There was never anyone in her office except her. Never anyone on the stairwell. Just the wolf. The wolf was always there. Except when it wasn't. Hunting him. Driving him forward. Cutting him off from friends. Family.
Wolves. What did wolves do? Wolves drove weaker prey from the herd, circling it until it was tired. Exhausted. Alone. And then they pounced. Something circled in his gut, eating away at him and his hands trembled. It was in his head. The wolf wasn't real. Doctor Goodwin said so. She was a good doctor. He jerked as she said his name.
"Arthur? Arthur, are you paying attention?"
"I-yes." It was here. Hiding. Watching. Waiting. He looked around. If he could just spot it... "I was paying attention Doctor."
"No. No, you weren't Arthur. You haven't been paying attention for some time. Always too busy looking over your shoulder to see what's right in front of you."
It wasn't Doctor Goodwin's voice. Arthur whipped around and nearly fell from his chair as he stared into the muzzle of the wolf. It grinned at him, licking its chops. It sat in Doctor Goodwin's chair, tail swishing, malformed paws clasped together. "Hello Arthur," the wolf said, teeth clicking together as it spoke.
"H-how? What?" Arthur pushed the chair back, every limb straining as the wolf leaned forward, yellow eyes blazing like the sun. Like the moon. "Doctor Goodwin?"
"Shhh Arthur. No more talking."
"But I'm not alone." He wasn't alone. The wolf wasn't real. It wasn't. "Doctor Goodwin..."
The wolf placed its deformed paws on the armrests of his chair, leaning toward him, hair brushing against him as it grinned at him. Its jaws opened slowly as Arthur watched, teeth so much longer and bigger than he'd thought. Not real. Not realnotrealnotreal. "You're not real..." he whispered, closing his eyes, trying to shrink away from the warm touch of its breath.
"No, I'm not," the wolf said as its jaws closed around his head. "But sometimes, I am."
Doctor Goodwin watched as Arthur Daniski jerked and struggled in his chair his eyes closed, silent screams distorting his features. Then he stiffened and collapsed, falling from the chair onto the floor, limp and dead, without a mark on him.
Smoke, thick and foul smelling, rose from his contorted form and rolled across the floor towards her, stretching and shaping itself into a rough lupine shape before dispersing and flowing between her parted lips and wide nostrils.
With a sigh, Goodwin settled back in her chair, a satisfied smile on her face, her pale pink tongue running over her lips, her long teeth flashing for just a moment. Poor Arthur. She placed her hands over her belly and turned to the window, her eyes peering down at the street below. In the light of the setting sun, they would have looked to be the deepest yellow if anyone had been there to see them before they closed.
She would have to go hunting again soon. Right now, she was satisfied.
But soon she would be hungry.
She was always hungry.
Until she wasn't.
This story originally appeared in Down in the Cellar, Summer 2007 issue.
Countess Alessandra Zorzi, international adventurer and thief, arrives in Arkham pursuing an ancient body freshly exhumed from a mound in Oklahoma, of curious provenance and peculiar characteristics. But before she can steal it, another party beats her to it. Now, caught between her mysterious client, the police, and a society of necrophagic connoisseurs, she finds herself on the trail of a resurrected mummy as well as the star-born terror gestating within it.
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